Sassy Menopause is an infrequent series of images made with some fashion illustration paper dolls I found in an old book. They were born out of a frustration with modern menopause information campaigns. Though I am glad we live in a far better informed world, there are still enormous, frightening data gaps in healthcare for people with vaginas (see the gaping holes in Table 1 here for a good example). As a result, we essentially spend our whole lives on the wrong end of gappy and often extremely poor health advice; if in fact we are taken seriously when we go to the doctor at all. No one who is feeling suicidal as a result of hormonal depression needs to be told by another person that they ‘barely noticed their menopause’. In the same way, not having PMS does not – and never has – made you a Cool Girl.
Given how serious menopause can be (and the Office for National Statistics says ‘suicide rates for women aged 45 to 54 – the most common age for perimenopause and menopause – have risen 6% in 20 years’ – see here), I’m fairly sure the last thing we need is girl boss feminism with its positive-vibes-only stank. And yet I did see, with my own eyes – AND IN THE MIDDLE OF A NATIONWIDE HRT SHORTAGE WHICH IS WEIRDLY NOT AFFECTING MAINLAND EUROPE BUT WHICH IS VERY MUCH STILL ONGOING – an instagram campaign that urged women to post about what was positive about menopause. Similarly, though The Menopause Charity does some great things, I struggle to understand why they thought anyone who was really suffering with menopause would want to take a selfie next to a poster about having a dry vagina. We still live in a misogynistic culture that has veeeeeery little time for our bodies unless they have been dramatically altered to fit within the parameters of conventional beauty. But menopause happens for most people at a time of life when your relationship with your self image is at best described as ‘shaky’. Asking people to actively shout about their own dry vaginas therefore feels a bit like asking Piggy to just go and get his glasses back; as if the Other Boys are reasonable.
Ultimately, I think we have to do what I think I heard Zadie Smith recommend as a basic primer to work out if what is happening to women in a given situation is fair. Do we ask men to take a photo next to posters about not being able to get it up? Do we ask people to ‘name one positive thing’ about cancer? Would you – hello! thanks for reading this, it’s nearly done, I promise – would YOU cheerfully tell me you had never had depression, just after I’d told you that I had once felt suicidal? Am I meant to feel POSITIVE about losing what feels like 60% of my mental clarity? I mean, you can see what is happening here.